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Surprised By Lack Of Backup Vaccines, Maine Officials Say 2nd Shots Should Still Be Available

David Goldman
Associated Press file
In this Dec. 15, 2020, file photo, a droplet falls from a syringe after a health care worker was injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I.

Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will continue as planned despite news Friday that the Trump administration does not have a backup supply of doses to boost state allocations as expected.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to fully immunize against COVID-19. And the federal government made the decision early on to hold those second doses in reserve for states to ensure that every person who got a first shot would get a second. That strategy appeared to change this week when U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced those reserved second doses would be released to states to boost vaccination efforts.

“Because we now have a consistent pace of production, we can now ship all of the doses that had been held in physical reserve, with second doses being supplied by second doses coming off of manufacturing lines with quality control,” he said.

But on Friday morning, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said he got a suprise notice contrary to that announcement.

“A few hours ago, we learned that there are no second doses sitting on a shelf,” he said.

Shah said the implications remain to be seen. But there’s at least one likely possibility.

“It means Maine may be continuing with our current supply constraints for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Maine received an all time high of nearly 33,000 doses during one week in December. But since then, the state’s allotment has been relatively flat. Next week’s allocation is about 18,000 doses. And Shah said the state has the capacity to administer more shots.

“This was one of the first weeks, upcoming, where sites were saying ‘We can do more.’ But we simply did not have from the federal government the vaccine to be able to meet that,” he said.

The absence of a backup federal supply that could have increased Maine’s allotment means that some people may have to wait longer to get the shot. The Mills administration just announced this week changes to the state’s rollout that expands who is eligible in Phase 1B, which had been expected to start within the next couple of weeks.

Maine’s Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, Jeanne Lambrew, said it’s unclear whether that timeline will change.

“We appreciate that it’s confusing. We’re confused. But at this point in time, our plan continues,” she said. “We are continuing to get vaccine, we are continuing to vaccinate our health care workers and health responders in Phase 1A. We’re beginning to plan for older Mainers, medically frail people. We will continue our work. But we will try to ensure that the information that we receive today is accurate before we change any of our plans.”

And even though second doses are no longer being held in reserve, Shah said at this point, he expects people who received their first shot will get their second within the appropriate time frame.

“They are coming off the production line, rather than the shelf, but there has been no disruption with that, and we have no reason to believe, nor have we been told, that second doses will be delayed in any fashion,” he said.

Shah and Lambrew said they’ve had productive conversations with the incoming Biden administration, and hope they will soon get better information and projections on vaccine supply.